Commissioner Smith, Chair Kafoury put forward sanctuary county resolution, reaffirm service policy

December 22, 2016

Commissioner Loretta Smith (left) and Chair Deborah Kafoury bring forward resolution on sanctuary county

Multnomah County Commissioners today unanimously resolved to be a place where people can visit clinics, libraries and other services without fear.

The resolution reaffirms existing Multnomah County policy and Oregon law.

Chair Deborah Kafoury and Commissioner Loretta Smith brought the sanctuary county resolution in response to the anxiety and uncertainty after the 2016 presidential campaign. Commissioner Smith likened it to the board’s proclamations on LGBTQ rights, marriage equality, and support of seniors, the homeless and children.

“We want to make sure our policy is to serve everyone in our community without reservation and without fear of reporting them to immigration,’’ said Commissioner Loretta Smith. “We are a safety net government. We are a place where you can come if children are sick or hungry. We are not a policing organization, our goal is to serve the most vulnerable.’’

The unanimous vote came after public testimony highlighting the concerns.

“Our community is experiencing tremendous fear and anxiety,’’ said Alice Perry of Latino Network. “Students are being bullied, children as young as five are anxious about what will happen to parents, we have heard from community members about harassment at their jobs.’’

Oregon law prohibits public agencies from spending money, using equipment or enlisting personnel to enforce federal immigration law. Multnomah County Sheriff’s office issued a declaration this fall reminding residents of that firewall. Sheriff Mike Reese reiterated his department’s policy.

And local jurisdictions across the state are reiterating that commitment as immigrant residents raise concerns about what immigration enforcement will look like in a Donald Trump administration.

The city of Corvallis this month passed a resolution declaring it a “sanctuary” city. Portland Mayor-elect Ted Wheeler last month reiterated the city’s stance. Portland Community College declared itself a “Sanctuary College”earlier this week. And Ashland Police Chief Tighe O'Meara took to Twitter, to clarify that, in fact, “the entire State of Oregon is a 'sanctuary' state."

“The stakes are high,” said Andrea Miller, executive director of the immigrants rights group Causa. “I see this resolution as an affirmation of Multnomah County’s values and one step of many that we need to take to create a welcoming and inclusive county for all.”

Andrea Miller, executive Director of Causa, testifies in support of Sanctuary County resolution

Chair Deborah Kafoury said her goal in re-stating the county’s position was to ensure people would get services and their health would be protected and to take a stand against hatred, racism and violence.

“We cannot allay every fear and we don’t know all the answers. But we can affirm the commitment of our staff and the policies of this county are and will be focused on supporting the health and well being of our immigrant and refugee community,” she said.

Smith thanked those who spoke, emphasizing the importance of everyone having the bravery to testify regardless of an individual's position on immigration. Because she said everyone needs to feel they have the freedom to speak up.

“Equity looks like us opening our doors to a woman and her kids who need to run away from domestic violence. It looks like being able to use our health and dental services for  all people. Equity looks like making sure children who use SUN schools and other programs that able to do without reporting to immigration.”

That, she said, is what equity looks like to the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners.

“Thank you for taking care of human beings from whoever they are, wherever they are,” said Jacqueline Mercer, executive director of the Native American Rehabilitation Association of the Northwest. “Each of us stands with you.’’